My bike knew something big was happening this morning. It sensed my air of purpose, saw me channeling my inner bike mechanic...
"So," it said, eyeing me cautiously, "what are you up to?"
My bike doesn't trust me. It groans when I bring out the tire pump, pesters me with instructions when I adjust a screw. Too tight! ... Wrong direction! ... Why don't you leave it to the real mechanics!
After my Friday morning ride in the rain though...
...my bike's chain was in desperate need of a good cleaning. Thanks to a post I read on the Cyclin' Missy blog, I had recently bought this:
I know, it's pretty sinister looking. But it's actually a chain degreaser/cleaner. You can see how it works on the box cover. It also comes with that oddly shaped brush for cleaning dirt out of the rear cassette cogs. Today, I was going to give them both a try for the first time.
As I took the machine out of the box, my bike got mighty suspicious.
"What's that you got there, Jason?"
"Well, it's a chain cleaner."
"Oh no!" my bike started to protest, but I interrupted...
"Now look -- after yesterday morning, you need it. Your chain is covered in road grime, and all the oil has washed away. Believe me, you'll feel much better afterwards. Besides, look how cool this cleaner is!"
My bike let out a defeated sigh. I went to work.
First I cleaned off the chain and cogs with the brush and then used the brush's handle to get the dirt out from between each gear. It worked remarkably well! That hook drops right into the cassette, so all you have to do is turn the pedal cranks and the dirt falls right out.
My bike didn't say anything, which I think meant it was secretly a little impressed.
Next it was time for the big gun ... the degreaser/cleaner. First though, a technical note: in bicycle-speak, the sprockets in the back of the bike are called cogs, and those in the front are called chainrings. The degreaser/cleaner instructions suggested shifting the chain into the smallest rear cog and then shifting the front chainring into whatever gear keeps the chain level with the floor -- all of which I did.
As I went step-by-step through the cleaning process though, my bike started hammering me with its usual worries:
First I filled the cleaning machine's reservoir with citrus degreaser...
"Wait, don't spill it!" it yelled.
...then I pressed the chain into the bottom half of the machine...
"Careful, don't twist the chain!"
...and clasped on the lid...
"Don't get the chain stuck!"
...then I started turning the pedal cranks...
"Watch out, don't let the chain fall off the chainring!"
...and the chain fell off the chainring.
My bike looked at me. I looked at my bike.
"See," it said.
It took some doing to get the chain back on the sprocket. Even though I had shifted the chain into the middle gear of my triple chainring set, it actually fell outside the largest chainring and wedged itself in the front derailleur cage. Yikes! I'm sorry I couldn't take a photo for this post, but my hands were covered in grease. After shifting the front derailleur into the highest gear though, I was able to pry the chain back into place pretty easily.
With a renewed sense of purpose, I said to my bike...
"Don't worry, it's o.k. We simply forgot Rule Number One: throw out the instructions!"
My bike just rolled its eyes.
I figured the problem had to do with the chain being in the smallest rear cog, which never feels all that stable even when riding. I was wary of this when I read it in the instructions. So I shifted the chain into a nice centrally located cog and tried again.
This time everything fell into place. I turned the cranks, and after a few starts and stops, the chain moved smoothly through the multitude of sponges and brushes, degreasing and cleaning itself to a sparkly finish. After a number of rotations, I undid the lid and removed the contraption from the chain. It never looked so clean!
I then dried the chain with a cotton cloth and gingerly applied a light coating of chain lube. After letting it sink in, I wiped away the excess and stood back to inspect my handiwork.
Nice! I could have repeated the process to make it completely spotless, but I'd had enough for one morning. I thought it looked awesome as is.
My bike just stood there gleaming, and I could tell it was pleased. After washing out the cleaning machine, I put my handy new tools away. Time for my morning ride! I pulled back the curtains and checked the weather out the window...
It was raining.
I looked at my bike ... I looked at the rain ... I looked at my bike ... I looked at the rain again. I thought about all I did.
Then my bike said:
"Why don't you just go to Dunkin' Donuts and get a nice cup of coffee. We'll ride tomorrow."
My bike. It always knows.